The Section 504 Eligibility Determination Process
How is a Section 504 evaluation request made?
Any parent or guardian, teacher, counselor or other school staff member who believes that a student needs accommodations for a qualifying disability can request a Section 504 evaluation. Please advise the person requesting an evaluation to use the Section 504 Evaluation Referral form and forward it to the school 504 Coordinator.
What is the process for reviewing Section 504 eligibility?
When a 504 evaluation referral is received, the 504 coordinator of the school that serves the student will determine if a 504 evaluation will be conducted and document the decision on the bottom of the Section 504 Evaluation Referral form. A decision to not conduct a 504 evaluation will be extremely rare and most likely based on similar requests for the same disability area in one calendar year. If an evaluation will be conducted, the Coordinator will appoint a 504 Team to make this eligibility determination. The 504 Coordinator will conduct a preliminary review to determine the nature of the student’s disability and what information is needed. The 504 Team will meet and conduct the eligibility determination. The 504 Team may also contact the PUHSD 504 Compliance Director, Chris Jones, at 602-764-1010.
Site level 504 Team must include individuals knowledgeable about the needs of the student and the evaluation data being reviewed. This team can include the parent/guardian of the student, teachers, counselors, nurses and/or other school staff members, as well as staff members of community agencies. The parent/guardian should be included in this process whenever possible. The team's role is to review the nature of the student's impairment and determine how it affects educational access. If the team determines that the impairment does substantially limit a major life function, the team will create a Section 504 Plan for the student that outlines the appropriate student accommodations. The 504 Coordinator is responsible for sending a copy of the Section 504 Evaluation Report to the District 504 Compliance Director, Chris Jones, at the PUHSD ESS Offices located CES – LL, 4502 N. Central, Phoenix, AZ 85012.
Section 504 eligibility meetings are not intended to be as comprehensive as a special education evaluation. However, the 504 Team must investigate the specific concern that triggered the review request. Information that might be considered includes, but is not limited to, grades, attendance reports, behavior plans, review requests, cumulative file information, psychological evaluations, medical information, observations and standardized testing information. The 504 Team may administer and use other formal and informal measures as necessary. The team must obtain parent permission if it is determined that individualized standardized testing is necessary. The team must ensure that information obtained from all sources is documented and carefully considered.
In the event that the 504 Team determines that the student is not eligible to receive a 504 Plan, the 504 Coordinator is responsible for notifying the parent by completing the Parent Notice as outlined in IEP PRo: Section 504 Eligibility or Non-Eligibility Determination form and providing it to the parent, either in person or by mail.
What is Section 504?
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, commonly referred to as “Section 504,” is a federal statute that prohibits discrimination against persons on the basis of their disability by institutions, such as Phoenix Union High School District, that receive financial federal assistance. It states: No otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall solely, by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Section 504’s purpose is, among other things, to assure that disabled students have educational opportunities and benefits equal to those provided to non-disabled students. An eligible student under Section 504 is a student who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. If a student is covered by Section 504, Phoenix Union High School District must provide such accommodations as are necessary to ensure that the student has equal access to services, programs and activities offered by our schools.
How does Section 504 differ from the ADA?
Section 504 protects students from discrimination on the basis of disability to the same extent as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This manual uses only the term “Section 504,” but the District acknowledges that qualified students with disabilities have the same rights under the ADA as under Section 504.
What is the ADA Amendments ACT of 2008?
The ADA Amendments ACT of 2008, effective January 1, 2009 amended the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The ADA Amendments ACT broadened who qualifies for protections under the ADA and Section 504.
a. Expanded definition of "major life activity"
The definition of "major life activity" was expanded by the 2008 ADA Amendments (the new language appears in bold): "major life activities" include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.
A "major life activity" also includes the "operation of a major bodily function," including but not limited to functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
Common impairment that may entitle a student to a Section 504 plan include communicable diseases (e.g., HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis), medical conditions (e.g., asthma, allergies, diabetes), and attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD).
b. "Substantially Limits"
The definition of "substantially limits" was relaxed with passage of the 2008 ADA Amendments in two significant ways:
1. The amendments provide that "a(n) impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit major life activity when active." For example, a student with Crohn's Disease who may have periodic flare-ups that require hospitalization must be evaluated based on how the disease affects him or her during those flare-ups, and not when the disease is inactive.
2. The 2008 ADA Amendments also clarified that a student may be eligible under Section 504 even if the student's disability or condition is controlled or mitigated, e.g. but medication, cochlear implants, hearing aids, etc.
Mitigating measures include, but not limited to:
Medical supplies, equipment, or appliances
Low-vision devices (excluding eyeglasses and contact lenses)
Prosthetics (including limbs and devices)
Hearing aides, cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices
Oxygen therapy equipment and supplies
Assistive technology devices
Reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services
Learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.
How does Section 504 differ from IDEA?
A student who qualifies for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a qualified disabled student under Section 504. The converse, however, is not true: a qualified disabled student under Section 504 is not qualified to receive special education services and the protections of IDEA. In other words, some disabled students may qualify for accommodations under Section 504 who do not qualify for special education services under IDEA.
If a disabled student is receiving special education services in accordance with IDEA, then the student is adequately accommodated for the purposes of Section 504. For this reason, it is not necessary or appropriate to provide a disabled student with Section 504 protections (i.e., notice, evaluation and accommodation plan) if the student has already been determined eligible under IDEA. However, if a student is determined to be not eligible under IDEA, the evaluation team may want to consider whether the student would, nevertheless, qualify for accommodations under Section 504.
Any questions regarding IDEA should be directed to a school psychologist or the Special Education Department.
Identifying Students for Section 504 Eligibility
What criteria are used to determine 504 eligibility?
For a student to qualify for Section 504 protection, the student must meet three criteria: (1) a mental or physical impairment, (2) which substantially limits, (3) one or more major life activities. If the student has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, the impairment is a qualifying disability if it creates a barrier to the student’s ability to access the same educational opportunities afforded to non-disabled students. It is important to understand that all three criteria must be met before the student is eligible for Section 504 protection. Additional details on each of the three criteria follows.
Mental or physical impairment:
This criterion includes any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems. Mental or psychological disorders are also covered. Section 504, in contrast to IDEA, does not limit eligibility to specific diseases or categories of medical conditions. Environmental, cultural and economic disadvantages are not covered unless the student who has any of these characteristics also has a physical or mental impairment.
Section 504 does not specifically define the term “substantially limits.” The basis for evaluating this criterion is the impact the impairment has on one or more of a student’s major life activities. It is vital to understand that for a student to qualify for 504, the impairment must impose, to a “considerable” or “large degree,” a limitation to one or more major life activities. The 504 Team will consider the nature and severity of the disability as well as how long the disability is expected to last. Simply having a condition or disability does not automatically qualify a student for Section 504 protection. The condition must present a barrier to the student’s ability to access the same educational opportunities as that afforded a non-disabled student, or a substantial limitation does not exist.
1. Physical or Mental Impairment
Any physical or mental impairment may result in qualification under Section 504. Unlike IDEA, there are no categories of qualifying disabilities. The definition of "major life activity" was expanded by the 2008 ADA Amendments (the new language appears in bold): "major life activities" include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.
2. Major Life Activity
The identified physical or mental impairment must affect a major life activity: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.
3. Substantially Limited
The impairment must substantially limit the major life activity, and thereby create a barrier to the student’s ability to access the same educational opportunities afforded to non-disabled students.